Editor’s Note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of “The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood.” He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.
President Obama's campaign launches a fictional storybook ad called "The Life of Julia"
William Bennett: Buried within the ad is the ideological vision of modern liberalism
He says the story of Julia represents Obama's view of the state's role in an individual's life
Bennett: Conservatives must be able to craft an alternative vision
Last week, President Obama’s campaign launched a fictional storybook ad called, “The Life of Julia.” The slide show narrative follows Julia, a cartoon character, from age 3 to age 67 and explains how Obama’s policies, from Head Start to Obamacare to mandated contraception coverage to Medicare reform, would provide Julia with a better life than Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan could.
Julia is not your typical all-American girl, but an obviously independent, yuppie liberal woman. She goes to public school, graduates college, and becomes a Web designer. She is able to pursue her career because, at age 27, “her health insurance is required to cover birth control and preventive care, letting Julia focus on her work rather than worry about her health.”
At age 31 she “decides to have a child,” with no mention of a father or husband. Her son Zachary heads off to a Race to the Top funded public school, while Julia goes on to start her own Web business. She retires at age 67 with Social Security and Medicare supporting her financially and spends her later years volunteering in a community garden.
Julia’s happily-ever-after tale is remarkably void of reality. Nowhere in her fictional life is it mentioned that Head Start has done little, if anything, to improve elementary education, that she will likely graduate with $25,000 in student loan debt, that she has a 50% chance of being unemployed or underemployed after college, that Medicare and Social Security are headed toward insolvency, and that her share of the national debt is $50,000 and growing.
For Republicans, Julia’s story might seem like a joke too good to be true, but they should take it very seriously. Because buried within “The Life of Julia” is the ideological vision of modern liberalism – to create a state that takes care of its people from cradle to grave. The story of Julia is a microcosm of Obama’s vision for America and emblematic of his view of the government’s role in an individual’s life.
“The Life of Julia” has done what many conservatives have failed to do so far – outline in exacting detail what modern Democratic policy wants for individuals. Here we have Obama’s 21st century synthesis of the Great Society, New Deal and New Frontier.
Julia’s entire life is defined by her interactions with the state. Government is everywhere and each step of her life is tied to a government program. Notably absent in her story is any relationship with a husband, family, church or community, except a “community” garden where she works post-retirement. Instead, the state has taken their place and is her primary relationship.
As banal and hackneyed as Julia’s life of government dependence may seem, many Americans support it. After all, similar promises lured a number of European countries into overreaching and under-supported social safety nets. With the American family less intact than ever and with single motherhood at historic highs, women like Julia are increasingly left on their own. The idea of government assistance can become more and more attractive to them and even necessary.
Democratic policymakers realize that in the absence of self-sustaining family units, government can step in and fill the void. And a government large enough to fill that void can eventually take the place of the family altogether. Cultural commentator Heather Mac Donald recently wrote, “The single mother has become the cornerstone of Democratic politics.” Julia is the perfect example.
In response, conservatives must defend their own cornerstones – individual liberty, virtue and earned success. Conservatives must make the case that earned success is preferable to government dependency, and that Julia is more likely to achieve success and fulfillment in a good, stable family. As families grow stronger, schools, churches and communities improve, and Julia’s chances for success improve, both for herself and her son. But as government grows larger and more intrusive, Julia’s personal liberty and opportunities may shrink.
Whatever pleasure Republicans may get from jokes or parodies of Julia, the fact is that many women will choose her life, some out of necessity or believing it’s necessary. “The Life of Julia” should make it obvious that this election is about more than offering Julia a better job and more benefits. Conservatives must be able to provide Julia an alternative vision for a better future. Without it, Julia might have nowhere else to turn but to the government, and that is nothing to laugh about.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.